Chinese Grand Prix – Friday Practice

Posted on April 18, 2014

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I’m really sorry about the last couple of weeks – I did about half the analysis of the race for Malaysia, and I didn’t get the chance to do anything at all for Bahrain – but I did discover how the fuel consumption at a circuit can affect the competitiveness. In Malaysia, there was no sign of fuel saving from anyone, and in Melbourne there was fuel saving from all execpt Williams clearly visible in the race history chart.

Bahrain’s competitiveness was not all about power and straightline speed. The higher fuel consumption than Malaysia came into play again – which meant that the Mercedes powered cars were again at advantage, and especially the Williams looked better again. I was surprised in the Melbourne analysis that Bottas had not looked particularly quick when the data was fitted – but it is clear now that this was because he wasn’t that quick. He gained huge amounts whenever everyone else went into fuel save mode.

In China it looks like the Mercedes fuel efficiency advantage will be less than in Bahrain – indeed the Friday practice looks to be at least as close as we have seen this year, although the inconsistency of the pace makes it less clear than usual. The chart of the main stints is given below – note that Rosberg is on softs and Hamilton mediums.

China_1

Mercedes again fastest, but they don’t look so good on the softer tyre – where Ricciardo clearly did very well. This suggests that the choice is a two stop with the prime as the main tyre, or a three stop where the option might be usable as the main tyre – at least for two stints. From the Mercedes runs, the soft seems to be about 0.4s quicker over a few laps, but doesn’t last long. Rosberg’s pace changes at about lap 5, by about 1.2s. Fuel or tyres?

Similar behaviour is seen from Alonso, but as Raikkonen is much slower (1.5s!), and then his stint reverts to Raikkonen pace, it is unlikely that this pace is real. It might be better than Bahrain, but both Force India and Williams (at least Massa) seem to be ahead of Ferrari, who may be battling with McLaren. Toro Rosso again look to be close to this battle, as does Grosjean. There is strong evidence of some progress in sorting the Lotus, and strong evidence that Kvyat is a serious talent – he is beginning to look like the quicker Toro Rosso driver already and I was never convinced that Ricciardo was faster than Vergne.

Sauber are still adrift, but a promising stint from Kobayashi suggests that Caterham are looking reasonable.

Some numbers:

  • Rosberg (at the start of his stint, +1.2s after 5 laps)
  • +0.4s Hamilton (medium tyres)
  • +0.5s Alonso (to lap 7, then +2.3s!)
  • +1.1s Ricciardo (long consistent stint – surely a good chance of a podium on a two-stop)
  • +1.2s Vettel
  • +1.3s Massa (good consistency)
  • +1.5s Hulkenburg/Perez (Checo maybe edges it on consistency)
  • +1.5s Kvyat (very impressive stint)
  • +1.7s Bottas
  • +2.0s Button
  • +2.0s Raikkonen
  • +2.2s Grosjean
  • +2.4s Vergne
  • +3.2s Gutierrez (looks faster than Sutil)
  • +4.0s Magnussen (no idea about this)
  • +4.0s Sutil
  • +4.0s Kobayashi
  • +4.3s Bianchi
  • +4.8s Ericsson
  • +5.0s Chilton

So most likely it will be Mercedes, but they might have to do some looking after of their tyres, which would make it closer. Ricciardo is the most likely to benefit. There are three others I will be watching closely based on their performances today – Massa, Kvyat and Grosjean. They could all produce something based on the job they did in the long runs in Friday practice.

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